Grégory Gendre is building a new environmental paradigm by setting up a national network of professional and local recycling communities. Grégory has proven the economic and environmental efficiency of local waste management, from collection to treatment and production of added-value recycling products and services. Using his methodology of selecting creative and entrepreneurial communities, Grégory will spread his model on a national scale and foster an unprecedented double bottom-line set of recycling actors.
The New Idea
To encourage environmentally and economically rational waste management, Grégory empowers local stakeholders and creates recycling communities. Starting in Oléron, on the French West Coast, he has successfully gathered various actors along a local cooking oil recycling chain, including public institutions, restaurants, camping institutions, oil suppliers, and the general public. Grégory demonstrates to each of them the benefits and common interests in participating in the local recycling system, such as avoided expenses connected to the treatment of waste output, corporate social responsibility, and communication benefits toward tourists (i.e. for instance, fun and punchy messages about using the cooking oil for one’s French fries as a biofuel for the local scenic railway). Beyond the significant reduction in the environmental print of recycling, Grégory uses his system as a leverage to raise awareness on environmental issues and to deeply influence behaviors around recycling.
The success of Grégory’s model is primarily based on the community principle. Indeed, the involvement of a large range of actors around cooking oil has a domino effect on the entire recycling system. Beyond the 25,000 liters of cooking oil collected and recycled every year (i.e. more than half of the total oil deposit of the region), the stakeholders have put into place new practices, i.e. camping institutions have created Mister Waste seasonal jobs to optimize waste sorting. The community-based system also generates a bottom-up sourcing of local waste issues and opens up new opportunities to build recycling chains. For instance, fishermen and oyster-farmers were able to raise the issue of having no solutions in regards to the rotten shells that were polluting their tanks. Thanks to a partnership with a research and development laboratory, Grégory is currently setting up a new recycling chain to collect these shells and create recycled bags for the mussel and oyster industry.
Grégory is spreading his model to other communities, with the goal of setting up systems to recycle everything, everywhere. With this objective in mind, he carefully selects local actors, such as environmental citizen organization (COs), public institutions, or professional groups, and trains them to become committed and creative recyclers. All affiliated organizations become part of the national community and can share best practices and solutions. By scaling up, Grégory builds a new set of market-based actors who can recycle waste innovatively and efficiently.
Over the last few years, governments and citizen initiatives have made great efforts to raise awareness on environmental issues such as global warming and carbon footprints. The French Agency on Environment and Energy has led national awareness campaigns and people are more sensitized and feel the responsibility to do something. A basic level of environmental consciousness seems to have been reached; in 2009, 68 percent of French people declared being well informed about recycling and waste sorting.
Nevertheless, playing an active role on an individual level can be difficult and the national recycling rate of domestic waste fluctuates in reality between 15 and 20 percent. Some initiatives show that community-based projects are more willing to engage organizations and individuals in social and environmental issues. A telling example is the creation of a new agricultural production and distribution system to encourage local consumption. For instance, the Cocagne Gardens, a social initiative led by a French Senior Ashoka Fellow allows thousands of citizens to collaborate together on local green agriculture projects.
Conditions are thus present to engage new actors collectively, and now is a historical moment to build community-based models to recycle better. Current models are not working. There is a missing piece in the recycling scheme between individual volunteers who sporadically clean up waste and large private companies disinterested in local scale. Industrial recyclers like Veolia are unable to deal with door-to-door collection and individualized support to professionals who produce waste. Instead, they rely on a simple commercial relationship where one pays to get rid of waste. As a result, recycling rates remain low.
There is a profound lack of economic and environmental rationality in the current system, and recycling processes (i.e. collection plus treatment) can in the end generate more pollution than intended. For instance, before Grégory’s initiative, the cooking oil in Oléron was collected at the local waste reception center; however, without regulations producers preferred to deposit the oil at uncontrolled dumpsites. The oil that was successfully collected at the waste reception center was sent by truck to a recycling center in the south of France and then to Germany for chemical treatment. On a national-scale, better collection and recycling of half of the total oil deposited into nature today would save 50M EUR. There is a huge opportunity to create a more efficient, cost effective, and environmentally-friendly waste management system for cooking oil and other waste.
Since 2007 Grégory has been developing a dynamic system in Oléron, the region where he collects cooking oil, filters it, transforms it into a biofuel, and promotes its local use for the scenic railway or fishing machines. All community stakeholders are involved, share the same values, and are collectively building a virtuous circle where they all gain various economic and communication advantages. Professional members (i.e. restaurants, camping businesses, and oil suppliers) benefit from the free collection of their oil (versus paying 0,23 EUR per litre at the local waste center), access to a cheap biofuel, and advice to globally improve their environmental practices (i.e. reducing cooking temperatures, not using palm oil, and better sorting methods). They are also able to promote their social responsibility to their clients and partners. Furthermore, local authorities work with the association as a partner to develop new solutions for environmental protection, raise awareness, and handle the huge growth in the island’s population during the tourist season (where the population grows from 30,000 to 300,000 people). Local authorities have a direct interest in recycling oil since 20,000 EUR (US$28,256) are paid each year to clean the sewer pipes, clogged by oil. They also benefit from promoting environmental innovation to locals, tourists, and students. For example, they promote the association’s social awareness programs on environmental issues; workshops in school, shows and plays in tourist sites, and on local TV. By building communities around recycling, further positive actions are set up and continue to drive a cycle of local awareness, change, and improvement.
Oléron and the surrounding region are now recognized as environmentally innovative and exemplary sites. This recognition facilitates the spread of Grégory’s innovative model. Since the beginning, while building the first recycling community, he created the conditions to spread his idea nationally. Grégory partnered with a research and development laboratory, Valagro, to jointly lead experimentations and validate them scientifically. This professional partnership has yielded great results: Monitoring the amount of collected oil has demonstrated the system’s impressive capability and for the first time in France, the use of naturally filtrated oil-fuel in vehicles is permitted. This unprecedented decision will facilitate the implementation of oil recycling projects in other regions, and open doors to experimenting with recycling innovations based on waste issues sourced by the affiliated communities.
To build his network of affiliated recycling communities, Grégory has established selection criteria and designed a turn-key replication methodology, the Kit Huileo. Grégory relies on three types of existing organizations to spread his model: Environmental COs, professional groups, and local authorities. The package they buy as affiliated members offers them a 15-day training, all the materials to quickly collect and filtrate oil, and ideas for community management. Starting with cooking oil is an easy way to launch a local recycling system and allows the network to have at least one common project to share nationally. However, Grégory also pays attention to developing the creativity of the local communities and encourages them to think of new products and services to recycle particular local waste or to use the recycled products. Members then make the new initiative possible by working with the R&D lab and sharing best practices. Currently, the association is half financed by local government and half by revenue from membership fees, the sale of oil, and TV programs, among other income-generating schemes. Already, Grégory is launching five new local recycling communities in France, demonstrating that community members themselves can control and reduce their environmental footprint.
Grégory grew up on the island of Oléron and had the chance to experience a great feeling of freedom. When he was young, he would play outside—biking, surfing, and playing with children from the village. Grégory’s secondary school and high school periods as a boarder in a big city might have been harder if he had not found an escape in books. Spending most of his time in the school library, Grégory read a great deal about various topics. These activities have helped him develop into a creative, curious, and passionate adult.
Grégory’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge led him to study journalism. He worked as a free-lance journalist for several years and participated in the creation of two new media communication start-up companies. Grégory seized all opportunities to travel to cover news and his social engagement grew stronger over the years as he observed social and environmental issues all over the planet. In 2005 he decided to launch the company’s first social project in Africa, to reinforce local media by bringing computers and other material resources to local organizations. At the same time, an oil spill was ruining the South West coast of France. Grégory quickly returned to France and engaged in the local clean-up of the beaches and coastland. He then pursued environmental work with a job at Greenpeace in the communications department. His work provided him with accelerated training on environmental causes, waste management and recycling, especially during his last mission, covering the asbestos issue on the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau disassembly process.
At that time, Grégory realized that denouncing these problems was not enough. He returned to Oléron and decided to develop his own solution. Grégory started investigating and discovered an oil biofuel project in the South of France. He realized how cooking oil could be a punchy starting point for his recycling community model given that Oléron is a very touristic island where everyone eats French fries. His previous experiences and communication work helped the project grow rapidly and benefit from powerful media coverage, even at the Copenhagen Summit. Wearing several hats, Grégory not only has great communication skills but is also a coordinator in the field, a great spokesman with scientific expertise on recycling, and a strategic entrepreneur. Grégory is part of the network Entrepreneurs of the Future and helps develop social entrepreneurship in his region, while paying attention to his role as a husband, father, and stepfather to three children.